American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World. David Baron. Liveright, 384p.
People in North America will be treated to a solar eclipse on August 21, and those who are in a narrow band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will be treated to a total solar eclipse. What is amazing about this eclipse and other modern-day eclipses is the degree of precision in predicting timing, duration, and obscurity levels, thanks to the advancements in astrophysics. But, what about the people who lived centuries ago? Were they informed? How did they treat eclipses? Did they study them scientifically?
The historical narration, American Eclipse-A nation’s epic race to catch the shadow of the moon and win the glory of the world by David Baron helps us understand the answers to these questions. It gives a very vivid, but suspenseful account of events surrounding the 1878 total solar eclipse. The book also, in a way, tells the story of how America slowly grew as a ‘scientific power’. As a physics professor, as a women in science, as an eclipse enthusiast, and as one who encourages her students to be persistent, this book touched my heart!
David Baron is a former science correspondent for NPR and the former science editor for the public radio program The World. His first experience with a total solar eclipse was in Aruba in 1998 and that mesmerizing encounter with the heavenly wonder transformed him into an eclipse chaser or umbraphile. He began to wonder about the human reaction to eclipses in the past. This propelled him into a journey of investigation of the past eclipses and what he discovered was a rich history of not only eclipses, but also a story of how ‘United States came to be the nation that is today’. It is this history that Baron narrates in American Eclipse.
The book mainly focuses on three scientifically minded 19th century individuals who had urging reasons to pursue the total solar eclipse which crossed America along a path slicing through Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. First, Prof. James Watson, a famous american astronomer of the time, a professor at University of Michigan, who aspired to be the the one who discovered the most asteroids. He viewed the total solar eclipse of 1878 as a timely opportunity to identify and prove to the world the existence of the most illusive planet that he thought existed between the earth and the sun. Second, Thomas Alva Edison, having already invented several award winning apparatus including the electric pen, but not yet invented the light-bulb, was in a constant quest to find the next big gadget. He had just designed the heat sensing tasimeter at his New Jersey laboratory. He viewed eclipse of 1878 as an opportunity to not only test the tasimeter by measuring the coronal temperature, but also ‘to cement his place in history’ as one of the greatest. Finally, Prof. Maria Mitchell, a female astronomy professor of Vassar College, New York, a rarity at that time, was vehemently fighting back the idea that educating women can kill their femininity. For her, the eclipse was an opportunity to show the world that ‘science and femininity can co-exist’. Her eclipse expedition in 1878 included only females, some of whom were her former students!
As we are preparing to witness yet another total solar eclipse in just a few weeks, this book is a timely read. I recommend this book to teachers and professors who constantly remind students of persistence and grit, politicians who make the decision about funding allocations, all STEM students, and anyone who is curious about the culture of science almost 150 years ago. It is my hope that the readers ponder on how research in science and astronomy evolved over time and how our current actions and decisions have a much bigger impact on the lives centuries later.
The eclipse enthusiasts can't wait until the day of the Total Solar Eclipse of America-2017. While solar glasses are one way to watch the eclipse, there are other indirect methods to look at the sun. One can use lens combinations to make image projectors or 'Safe Solar Viewers' (SSV) as termed by Astronomy professor Richardson of College of Charleston. I am using the idea provided by Prof. Richardson in his website . He had done a length study using various lens combinations to get the ideal combinations. Reference to Prof. Richardson's work will be provided at the end of this document.
I used the following values for focal lengths of the object lens, barlow lens and the distance between the lenses d.
fo = 500 mm = 19.7 inches
fe = -27 mm = - 1.1 inches
d = 21 inches
You may have to adjust the position of the barlow until you get a satisfactory image on the screen.
Reference: Prof. Richardson
I have been reading a lot lately about solar eclipses, and especially how to view the eclipse in the safest way. I want to enjoy it personally. But, most of all, I want people to use this as a great learning opportunity. Since the eclipse will only last for a limited time (and if it's a cloudy day, then this time may be cut short even more!), it would be advisable to plan ahead of time. I've placed my orders for solar eclipse glasses, solar telescope and lenses to make a solar projector! I did my research and therefore I was able to make all the above purchases for less than $ 60.00. Not bad! Below, I will share all the cool sites I came across, so that you can be prepared too.
Safety First: Directly looking at the sun (even the partially eclipsed sun) can cause serious damage to the eyes. Keep this in mind. It will be too tempting to look up at the sun, but make sure to wear certified solar viewers or alternatively, watch the a projected image of the sun on a screen.
Learn the basics of solar eclipse and why nature has helped only the Earth to be able to witness total solar eclipse. Mother nature is truly amazing!!
Use this 3D web app to find out how the sun will appear in your location on August 21, 2017. This is a great app to kind of know what to expect on that day.
We all know that we aren't supposed to look at the sun directly. That's because the sun's rays can burn the retina of the eyeballs!! If you don't believe this, check out this demonstration video!
Eclipse Glasses are everywhere these day. But, do you know what is the right one to purchase? The certified solar viewers must meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard. This information should be printed on the side flap of your glasses. Check out the list of reputable eclipse glass vendors posted at the American Astronomical Society. I purchased my eclipse glasses and solar telescope (especially made to look at the sun) from Explore Scientific USA.
DIY Projects for the Makers
If you love DIY projects, I've found some fantastic ideas to make various indirect solar projectors. Following are some ideas, from most simple to more complicated methods.
Pinhole camera projection
Binoculars and Telescope Projection Video
Binoculars and Telescope Projection Instrucions
Using a dollar store eye glass lens. Very inexpensive, but cool project!
Following solar viewer will project an image of the sun that can be as big as 3 inches!
Two- Lens Solar viewer for $20 - Video
Two- Lens Solar viewer for $20 - Instructions with Lens specifications
I purchased the lenses required for this project from Surplusshed.com. Their customer service is great and the lens came within a few days!
Finally, if the weather is not on your side on August 21, not to worry. You can watch a live coverage.
Nasa Eclipse 2017 Live
Exploratorium Live Coverage